Thursday, 25 November 2010

The London Bombings - The Need to Know the Truth

The ConDem government has failed in its attempt to have part of the evidence at the inquiry into the London bombings of 7 July 2005, held in private. The High Court backed the decision of the coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, to allow bereaved relatives of the attack, to hear all the evidence. The government is expected to appeal the decision, claiming that it will compromise national security, which is the fail-safe argument used by the authorities when they want to cover something up.

At the time I was working close to Edgware Road tube station, where one of the four bombs was detonated, and it was at the usual time I arrived at the station. That I wasn’t there at fateful time is a matter of luck really. I arrived at my local Piccadilly line tube station at about 8.15am, only to find the station closed. An underground worker informed me that there was a ‘power failure’. I took an overland train to Finsbury Park station, intending to get onto the Victoria line to Kings Cross, but found the Piccadilly line was now working, so took that to Kings Cross.

As I was ascending the escalator at Kings Cross, to make my connection onto the Circle line to Edgware Road, the emergency sirens sounded, with instructions for everyone to evacuate Kings Cross station. This must have been around 9am. On exiting, I milled around with hundreds of other passengers at the front of the station, waiting for an all clear to continue my journey. At about 9.10am, a police officer rushed towards us, waving his arms, shouting ‘get away from the station’.

I decided to complete my journey to work on a bus, and managed to get onto one going to Marble Arch, where I could walk the rest of the way. I arrived at work at about 10.15am, and my colleagues there were still talking of power failures, but I had noticed a cloud of black smoke hanging over Edgware Road station. Then news started to come through of the bombings.

I feel extremely lucky that I wasn’t caught up in any of this, but have also reflected that the events I witnessed were suspicious. Why was the Piccadilly line closed at 8.15am, but open again around 8.45am? Why did the emergency alarm sound at Kings Cross some ten minutes before any of the explosions? And why was the story of a power failure put about by the authorities? Also, why have we seen so few photo images of the bombers on the day, when the London Underground has hundreds of CCTV cameras?

It has now come to light that at least two of the bombers were known to MI5 to be in contact with terrorists nearly a year and a half before the attack. This is not a conspiracy theory rant, indeed the holding of evidence behind closed doors only fuels these type of rumours. But we need to know what the security services knew and when, and why they failed to stop bombers. Not only the relatives of those killed in the bombings need to know the truth, but the public at large needs to have confidence in the security services, so this inquiry should be conducted in the open, for all to see.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Council Tax Benefit Goes Local

The ConDem government has announced that the amount of Council Tax Benefit (CTB) from 2013 onwards will be decided by local authorities. This is being ‘sold’ by the government as part of its localisation agenda, allowing local councils to decide more policies for their areas. The Green party has long advocated transferring political power to its lowest, local level, but this policy is an extremely damaging one, and the government has another, barely hidden agenda in wanting to facilitate it.

Like everything that comes out of the ConDem government, this policy shift is all about saving money at the expense of the poorest people in the country. CTB is paid to the unemployed, and workers and pensioners on low incomes. This is how CTB will change if the ConDems get their way.

At present CTB is administered by local authorities but the entire funding comes from central government. The proposed changes will see local authorities getting a ‘grant’ from central government, similar to the present arrangements, but this grant will be 10% less than that which they currently receive. From there on in, it is down the local authority to pay this benefit.

Clearly, if local councils want to maintain payments at current levels, then they will have to find the money elsewhere in their budgets. This is not a realistic proposition for councils at present (or in 2013) as pressure is on them to make savings in all service areas, as part of central government’s budget deficit reduction programme. So it is pretty much nailed on that CTB will be reduced in most areas by at least 10%.

I say at least 10%, because it is likely to be reduced further in some local authorities because the change proposal also allows councils to set the amount of CTB that they pay to claimants. They can even pay no CTB if they so decide, and you can imagine Tory and Lib Dem run councils thinking that they can pass on savings in CTB by setting a lower Council Tax. Thus, yet again money will be transferred from those on the lowest incomes to those on higher incomes. It will make Tory and Lib Dem voters happy, and those on CTB who will suffer, well, they probably vote Labour or Green anyway, so who cares?

It is also likely to add to the social cleansing agenda that will reduce Housing Benefit (HB) which I blogged about previously here, with CTB claimants being forced out of areas that do not pay CTB, and into (poorer) areas that may continue to pay the benefit at anything like its full rate.

This very important change to the benefit system has gone hardly reported in the media, although admittedly there are many important benefit changes being proposed by the ConDem government, but these fundamental changes to a vital benefit must be opposed by all fair minded people. If they get away this, our nation will be divided and into comfortable areas and poverty stricken ghettos.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Anti Cuts Music Video, Liar Liar

This is a fabulous video/song from Captain Ska (twitter page here). It feels like we are back in the 1980’s, Ska and reggae bands making political songs, Specials, The Beat, UB40 etc.

Let’s hope that the people do indeed rise up and stop these terrible cuts which will impact on the poorest in our society.

Monday, 8 November 2010

We’re All In It Together (Not)

At a time when public and private sector final salary pension schemes are under attack, see my previous post here for an example, The Guardian newspaper reports that teachers in private schools such as Eton and Harrow, are having their pensions subsidised by the tax payer. Teachers at the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister’s schools all benefit from this public subsidy to their pensions.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request from the Green party to the Department for Education (DfE) reveals that more than 62,000 teachers, including 1,600 at the country’s top private schools at a cost of around £40m per year at the top 100 private schools to the public purse. The DfE deems it necessary to give this subsidy because private sector money purchase pensions are less reliable than public sector final salary schemes, as they are reliant on the vagaries of the financial markets. The taxpayer therefore has been topping up private school teacher’s pensions by around a 6% contribution per year.

Noel Lynch, Chair of the London Green party who initiated the FOI request said: “It’s scandalous that taxpayers are unknowingly paying towards the pensions of teachers at schools like Eton and Harrow. It will come as a surprise to a lot of people that these elite, private sector employers have access to the government’s Teachers’ Pension Scheme to the tune of over £40 million.

“It’s unfair that these schools are exempted from the risks of stock market fluctuations while other similar sized organisations must suffer the consequences of a volatile market.”

So, not only will teachers at the top private schools earn more but they also have a comparable pension to public sector teachers. On top of this, private schools such as Eton are allowed charity status, and so are exempt from paying tax, when by anyone’s estimation Eton is not a charity but an extremely privileged institution. This makes it easy for private schools to attract the best teachers and perpetuates the class divide in our society. At a time of public spending cuts, how can a tax handout from ordinary people to the teachers of children of the most wealthy people in the country be justified?

For most workers, there is trade off between higher salaries in the private sector or a potentially more secure pension in the public sector, but teachers in private schools can have it both ways, without ever having to work even a single day in a public sector school, all at the expense of the tax payer. Claims by the government about the financial crisis that ‘we are all in it together’ and ‘those with the broadest shoulders should carry the heaviest burden’ and such like are not borne out by government policy.

The Green Party believes that this money should be ploughed into more urgent areas within the education budget such as building new local schools in deprived areas and employing more teachers in the public sector to reduce class sizes.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Greenest Government Ever Claims Are Pure Spin

Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim, that his would be the greenest government ever, are proving to be all words and no action. In the recent Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had its budget slashed by 30%, considerably more than the government department average of 19%. Around 8,000 jobs will be lost.

Further savings will be made by reducing spending on flood defence by around a third and consideration is being given to the selling off of National Nature Reserves. The government has also announced that a review of the regulation of food and farming. This could well lead to less regulation in this industry, which has a history of damaging biodiversity and water pollution. Look at what less regulation did to the banking industry and our economy. Environmental standards need to be strictly enforced, or firms will neglect their duties to protect our natural environment when it suits them.

The ‘Warm Front’ initiative, which provides money to people for energy efficiency measures like home insulation, on a means tested basis, is to be ended after next year. By doing this, the government is turning its back on the poorest in our society, not for the first time, and condemning them to a future of fuel poverty. At the same time, they are cutting thousands of jobs of the workers who have been carrying out this work, at a time of mass unemployment. These energy efficiency measures would eventually pay for themselves as well as reducing the country’s carbon footprint, but the ‘greenest government ever’ is more interested in cutting the budget deficit, than expanding or even continuing this sensible policy.

Transport policy comes off no better in the CSR. From 2012 the cost of rail travel will increase by 30% over the next five years. Commuters will be particularly badly hit by these increases, with for example, a rise of £1000 per year for someone commuting from Brighton to London over this period. Bus fares across the country will also rise as there will be a 20% cut in the fuel subsidy that bus companies get by 2015. In London, bus and underground fares will rise by 2% above inflation, meaning a single bus fare will rise by 10p per journey from next year. This at a time when we should be encouraging people to use public transport, and so reduce traffic congestion and our carbon emissions.

So, how can Cameron make this ridiculous claim of being the greenest government? Well, its pure spin. A kind of feel good factor for the public, if you say you are green often enough, then people will think it’s true. The facts on the other hand, tell a completely different story.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Lib Dem U-Turn on Nuclear Power

This video of Chris Huhne, Lib Dem MP and ConDem Coalition Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, outlines the Lib Dem policy on nuclear power BEFORE this year’s general election.

He now supports nuclear power, along with the rest of the coalition government, and this video has been removed from the Lib Dem’s website. But you can still see it here on this blog, in all its breathtaking duplicity.

How can you trust whatever the Lib Dems say in future?